Elements & Explanations

What makes a Japanese garden a Japanese garden? As you already know: To a Japanese gardener, a stone isn’t just a stone. He carefully selects the elements of his garden and is very attentive to detail when it comes to arranging them.

Most of the the elements are more than mere decoration, they carry a meaning that developed historically. We look at where these features come from, how they developed over the centuries and where they are used today.

The history of Japan’s gardens is also the history of Japan’s culture. We take a look at the cultural and religious developments that influenced Japanese gardens, explain the structure and architecture of temples and shrines, find out where garden stones are sourced and introduce famous people in the history of Japanese gardens.

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Fences as an element:
In Japan, fences have first been used extensively during the Kamakura period and developed much later than walls. That is surprising – considering the availability and versatility of the materials used. Their functions are manifold: They block views and separate sceneries, are erected as boundaries around the garden, work as windbreaks or screens or emphasize a special element in a garden.
Famous temples like the Ginkaku-ji and the Kinkaku-ji have their own fencing styles that are copied throughout the country. Traditionally materials like bamboo and wood or brushwork are used. Bamboo is especially valued for its simple beauty and flexibility. Above that, it is a fast growing local resource. Bamboo ages gracefully over the years – the fresh green fades to a honey colored gold and ages with to a silvery gray. Often, rough black hemp string (shuronawa) is used to tie the split bamboo pieces together in decorative knots.

Japanese architecture explained:
Gardens in Japan are usually part of temples or shrines or belong to a dwelling – historically strolling gardens around aristocratic residences, warrior class houses or – since pre-modern times small gardens in the inner courtyard of the house.
Japanese gardens were often built to be enjoyed from the house – maybe from a mediation hall, a study room or a wide veranda under the heavy eaves of the roof. So to really appreciate a garden, we think it's best if you see it in context with the architecture around them. In our e-book we will have give an overlook over Japan's architectural styles, explore its origins in China and other Asian countries and see how it developed independently over the course of the centuries.

Elements & Explanations

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